I’m a parent of two children at primary-school age, and I’m in my mid-thirties. That makes me still (just about) young enough to remember being that age, but now I have two of my own I get to see everything from my parents’ perspective.
Every so often I’ll say something or do something, and realise I’ve turned into my father. I regularly use the phrases “what do you use for a brain?”, “it’s right there, you fool” and “this room is a pit, I can’t even see the carpet” … and each time I do, I suffer an instant flashback to when it was said to me.
So when I see teenagers being … well, teenagers … I feel like I’m two people. The old man in me is fighting the urge to laugh, point, ask them how they can listen to that racket, and tell them to get their hair cut. But the remnants of teenage memories still empathise.
I remember what it was like. Thirteen to seventeen was just one long round of hormones, confusion and acute embarrassment. Those years where you decide what sort of music you’re going to listen to, how you dress, and what kind of friends you’ll make. You’ll also make horribly uninformed decisions about what career will consume the next 40 years of your life. It seems rather foolish to trust that sort of decision to someone whose only knowledge of the world comes from Radio One.
If you’re aged 30 or older, pause for a moment to consider your own teenage years. You may well be surprised you turned out as normal as you did. Things could have been a lot worse.
Anyway … back to the point I’m failing to make.
Though my children are now old enough to go to the lavatory by themselves (though my son’s aim could still use some work) we still have friends with young children. They often come to visit. So it is still fairly common at Oddbloke-Towers to see a child stumbling around with their trousers around their ankles. They’ve visited the bathroom but haven’t quite mastered doing buttons and belts up afterwards.
Such wardrobe-emergencies are completely normal and acceptable for a three-year-old. But when I see a teenager with their trousers around their ankles and underwear on display, I automatically assume the same: that teenager obviously needed to use the bathroom in a hurry but has moved-on from the practice-pants a little prematurely.
Teenagers, know this: all adults who see you have mentally labelled you as “backward” or “special”. As far as they’re concerned, you’re a Care In The Community case. They are already looking around for your carer, or wondering from which coach-party-outing you’ve been separated. Do not be surprised if an adult attempts to escort you to customer services, where Linda will announce on the tannoy that Kyle’s parent or guardian needs to come and collect him.
Your parents are despairing: if their progeny doesn’t posess the mental ability to pull his trousers up, lofty dreams of “my son the brilliant surgeon” seem unlikely. When they dreamed you might one day be famous, appearing on the People of Wallmart website was not what they had in mind.
Your grandparents are muttering about “bringing back national service”, as drill-sergeants take a dim view of low-slung army fatigues held up by chunky silver belts. You’re not going to terrify any Taliban by flashing your Calvin Kleins.
I appreciate that teenagers are trying to “find themselves” (just please try to keep it to once a night, and wash your hands afterwards). I understand that this includes discovering what music you like, finding a peer group, and getting something pierced. I also understand that becoming an adult is about making decisions: deciding who you’re going to be, and getting out from under your parents’ protection. I remember going through the same thing.
But trust me: when adults see you with your trousers that low and your undies on display, we don’t see you as rebellious, avant-garde, or exercising your independence. We see you as someone who hasn’t yet learnt to wipe his arse. You don’t look cool, or edgy, or like you’re flaunting conventional society. You just look like a plonker.
You need to demonstrate your ability to wear a belt, and show that getting dressed this morning was truly an intentional act and not just the result of a random hurricane. Until you do, we’re not going to trust you with a career, a car, a credit card, our daughters, powertools … or anything sharp.
And get your hair cut, too.